Major corporations are actively monitoring social media during standardized tests. This is being done to "protect" the "integrity" of test questions and answers. None of this is particularly surprising, other than the fact that a member of school administration was the one to blow the whistle on it.
Students in New Jersey are in the middle PARCC testing right now. This is a new standardized test which is administered by Pearson. It's not without its detractors; many parents are opting their kids out of the test, and after what Pearson just did I'm sure the number will grow.
The superintendent's email
A blogger by the name of Bob Braun got his hands on an email one NJ school district superintendent sent out to a mailing list. Said email discusses a dire "security breach" in which a student tweeted a mention of the recent PARCC test.
wasn't sent to remind teaching staff to keep a better eye on testing students. It was sent to inform the rest of them about a situation she (Elizabeth Jewett) found unacceptable. [all emphasis hers]
Good morning all,
Last night at 10 PM, my testing coordinator received a call from the NJDOE [New Jersey Department of Education] that Pearson had initiated a Priority 1 Alert for an item breach within our school. The information the NJDOE initially called with was that there was a security breach DURING the test session, and they suggested the student took a picture of a test item and tweeted it. After further investigation on our part, it turned out that the student had posted a tweet (NO PICTURE) at 3:18PM (after school) that referenced a PARCC test question. The student deleted the tweet and we spoke with the parent -- who was obviously concerned as to her child's tweets being monitored by the DOE. The DOE informed us that Pearson is monitoring all social media during PARCC testing. I have to say that I find this disturbing -- and if our parents were concerned before about a conspiracy with all the student data, I am sure I will be receiving more letters of refusal once this gets out (not to mention the fact that the DOE wanted us to also issue discipline to the student). I thought this was worth sharing with the group.
Well, the news has gotten out, spreading from Bob Braun's blog to the New York Times
and Washington Post
. Pearson remains unapologetic for its protection of its test turf, noting that it only monitors public
social media posts and cross-references those to ensure it's only reporting currently-testing students to various education agencies. All well and good, but when a private company wields the power to nudge public schools into disciplining students for so-called "security breaches," it's a bit of a problem.
This widespread coverage has prompted several educational entities to take action
In response to parent concerns, states using Pearson’s new PARCC exam did ask the company to stop cross-checking the names of students suspected of making inappropriate posts against the company’s list of registered test-takers. And New Jersey officials said Thursday that they would review the monitoring process to make sure student privacy is not compromised.
But Pearson isn't the only company keeping an eye on students for school administrators. Politico's coverage contains statements from a number of social media monitoring companies that provide surveillance tools and reporting to a variety of institutions.
Caveon is monitoring social networks on behalf of Pearson to safeguard against leaks of Common Core testing questions. Others -- like the infamous Geo Listening
-- are there simply to monitor and report.
Enter the surveillance services, which promise to scan student posts around the clock and flag anything that hints at bullying, violence or depression. The services will also flag any post that could tarnish the reputation of either the student or the educational institution. They’ll even alert administrators to garden-variety teenage hijinks, like a group of kids making plans to skateboard on school property .
Some of the monitoring software on the market can track and log every keystroke a student makes while using a school computer in any location, including at home. Principals can request text alerts if kids type in words like “guns” or “drugs,” or browse websites about anorexia or suicide. They can even order up reports identifying which students fritter away hours on Facebook and which buckle down to homework right after dinner.
Other programs scan all student emails, text messages and documents sent on a school’s online platform and alert school administrators — or law enforcement — to any that sound inappropriate.
Some of the tools run covertly. Others are expressly pointed out by administration to increase the deterrent factor. Some even go so far as to cross-reference multiple social media accounts in order to strip away students' anonymity on networks where no "real name" is required.
These companies generate tons of data and possible "hits," but how useful are they? Gaggle
, a service that scans emails, texts and discussion boards for "anything inappropriate," says it sends "thousands" of alerts to schools every year. But its contribution to a better-behaved student body is decidedly minimal.
In Deerfield, Gaggle has unearthed just one serious incident in the past the 18 months — an eighth-grader emailing a nude photo of herself, [Deerfield Superintendent Michael] Lubelfeld said.
The same goes for the other monitoring software deployed by Lubelfeld's school district -- which monitors students' computer usage. Only a "few violations" have been detected despite its constant presence.
Sure, the accounts may be public and there's no expectation of privacy in tweets, Facebook posts and school computer usage, but Pearson's monitoring didn't restrict itself to testing hours or even, indeed, school
hours. The scope of these companies' surveillance lends itself to tons of false positives, and this can have a very negative effect on students who are going to find themselves punished for off-campus behavior -- or worse, for doing nothing wrong at all.